The process of drawing with a graphic tablet is much less awkward than trying to draw with a conventional mouse. Because it’s closer to painting or drawing, the end product is usually superior to art made with a mouse. As well as giving the artist more control and allowing work to be undertaken more effectively, a graphic tablet also helps to prevent discomfort and strain that could lead to RSI or carpal tunnel syndrome.
What to Look For In a Graphics Tablet
The first characteristic to consider is the size of the tablet’s drawing surface. In general, photo editors will be able to work quite comfortably on a six-inch by eight-inch tablet; or even a four-inch by five-inch model. Nine inches by 12 inches is a good size for freehand drawing. Note that the actual drawing surface is likely to be smaller than the overall size of the tablet and bear this in mind when making a selection.
Many tablets connect to the computer via a standard USB connection; you can also get Bluetooth or wireless-enabled tablets. These are easier to position properly and avoid cable clutter but they’re also more expensive.
Best Professional Tablet : Wacom Intuos 5 Touch Medium Pen Tablet
The latest addition to the Wacom Intuos family of tablets, the Intuos5 range introduces gesture control and a heads-up display (HUD). These new innovations allow the user to work in a smoother, more intuitive way, without needing to glance away from the screen. The tablet recognizes both Mac and Windows gestures for zooming, panning and scrolling. The Intuos5′s wireless pen has as many as 60 degrees of tilt available; Wacom also advertises 2048 levels of pen pressure for a very natural and responsive feel.
The tablet comes with a wired USB connection as standard. Users can also choose to buy the optional wireless adapter, which comes with rechargeable batteries. The Intuos5 comes in three sizes: small, medium and large. The medium tablet is available without gesture support at a reduced price.
Best for Art : Wacom Cintiq 12WX 12-Inch Pen Display
A Cintiq’s price tag is not for the faint of heart; even this entry level 12WX model can cost up to $1000. That said, the Cintiq line is the pinnacle of tablet engineering: smooth and responsive, with an LED screen as the drawing surface for the easiest tracing and touch-ups. The glass drawing surface of the 12WX is scratch-resistant and clear. The Cintiq 12WX can be positioned at almost any angle thanks to its built-in stand; you can even hold it comfortably on your lap. The two scroll strips let you move around the image more easily.
The 12WX comes with a range of useful accessories, including a pen, a pen stand and five replacement nibs. There’s also a software bundle, including trimmed-down versions of Photoshop and Painter. You can access this either as a bundle of physical software or with a download key that comes with the package.
It’s certainly not a beginner’s model but for the professional artist, the 12WX is a great investment. One small caveat: some users have remarked that the screen’s touch sensitivity doesn’t extend all the way to the edges, so you’ve effectively got a smaller drawing surface than advertised.
Best for Photo Editing : Wacom Bamboo Capture Pen and Touch Tablet
The Capture is a smart, well-designed medium tablet. With a 5.8 inch x 3.6 inch drawing surface, there’s just enough room to work effectively. It has fewer features than the Intuos5 (ithere are only half as many shades of pen sensitivity) but it’s less than half the price and still supports multi-touch input. Perfect for photo editing, the Capture comes with a bundle of useful software including Photoshop Elements and Nik Color Efex Pro WE3, a set of filters for enhancing your photos.
Although the Capture isn’t flawless, it’s still an excellent tablet for a very modest $80 or so and draws consistently high reviews from current users.
Best Compact Tablet : Wacom Bamboo Splash Pen Tablet
For the artist who wants to begin working in digital format, the Splash is an ideal entry-level tablet. It’s essentially a scaled-down version of the Capture, with similar features – excluding multi-touch – and a lower price point. The tiny 5.8 inch by 3.6 inch drawing surface might make artists baulk but it’s still acceptable for sketching and fixing digital photos.
The software bundle is more basic than the one that comes with the Capture; but still supplies ArtRage Studio Autodesk Sketchbook Express, giving you the essentials you need to begin drawing and editing. Because it’s so small and light, the Splash is ideal for document markup tasks – you can simply hold it like a notepad as you work.
Best All-Rounder : Wacom Bamboo Create Pen and Touch Tablet
The largest of Wacom’s Bamboo line of tablets, the Create has the same features as the Capture but twice the work surface. It’s marketed as being suitable for all kinds of creative projects; while the 8.5-inch by 5.4-inch is a little small for freehand drawing, it’s not too cramped either. The Create’s pressure sensitive pen has an eraser end for making corrections, giving the drawing process a much more natural feel.
The software bundle includes Corel Painter Essentials as well as Adobe Photoshop Elements. Also in the bundle are Autodesk Sketchbook Express and Nik Color Efex Pro WE3, as well as some special offers from Digitalscrapbookplace.com, ShutterFly and Café Press.
At between $160 and $170 depending on the seller, it’s not quite as cheap as the smaller tablets but is still a fairly economical choice – especially if you factor in the free software.
Budget Graphic Tablet : DigiPro WP8060 8-Inch x 6-Inch USB Graphics Tablet
The DigiPro WP8060 is no Wacom Intuos5; the list of features is quite short and there’s certainly no professional software. For the money – a scant $30 or so – it’s still a reasonable tablet. The cordless pen offers an adequate 512 levels of pressure. If you really can’t wait to get started on a full-sized tablet but the Create is out of the question, the WP8060 is a reasonable compromise.